The European Investment Bank (EIB) is being investigated for maladministration, after the European Ombudsman sent a formal letter opening the case this week (27 February 2017).

The investigation comes after ClientEarth, CEE Bankwatch Network and Counter Balance highlighted the lack of transparency at the bank, and its attempts to block scrutiny. This complaint, submitted in September 2016, was accepted by the Ombudsman, which announced it would investigate the case and ask the EIB to explain its transparency policy and reaction to the NGOs’ challenge.

ClientEarth, CEE Bankwatch Network and Counter Balance complained because the EIB – which invests around €80 billion in projects annually – blocked a challenge to its new transparency policy from the three NGOs.

The EIB has a huge impact on environmental decisions around the world, from whether a dam will be built on vulnerable ecosystems to whether funding will go to renewables or fossil fuels.

Its transparency policy keeps all information about investigations - including of corruption and fraud – confidential. It also creates illegal exceptions to people’s right to scrutinise the bank. Given the amount of money at stake, this raises serious concerns about the accountability of the bank.

ClientEarth chief executive James Thornton said: “If the EIB stops public scrutiny of its actions using its so-called transparency policy - and blocks challenges to that policy – it is failing doubly in its duties. The complaint mechanism is there to make sure the bank – and the projects it funds - are accountable for every Euro of public money spent, so it is essential that people can use it.”

Director of Counter Balance Xavier Sol said: “As an NGO coalition promoting a high level of transparency for the EU public banks, we welcome the Ombudsman’s decision to open an investigation. We hope this will shed light on the culture of secrecy still prevailing at the EIB and on the need for the bank to raise the bar on transparency. Indeed it is key for European taxpayers to know that European funds are spent in the public interest.”

Anna Roggenbuck, Policy officer at CEE Bankwatch Network said: “The European Ombudsman opened its investigation after our initial complaint was rejected by the Complaints Mechanism of the EIB on inadmissibility grounds. The Ombudsman decision is a clear signal the claims were admissible. We are glad she will investigate the way the complaint office took its decision a few months after it first confirmed admissibility for the complaint, and whether it was caused by management intervention.”

Now, the Ombudsman will ask the European Investment Bank to respond to the complaints. If she finds the bank guilty of maladministration, she will make recommendations to improve its transparency. This would shed light on the bank’s practices and exert significant pressure to improve.